Implant & transplant innovations net $20,000 each from HealthTech Innovation Challenge

By Claudia Hooper

Two teams from Translating Research at Melbourne (TRaM) at the University of Melbourne have successfully pitched their medical technology innovations to win two of four $20,000 funding grants at the Graeme Clark Institute (GCI) HealthTech Innovation Challenge earlier this month.

The two winning TRaM teams, CorGel and NeuroBit, creating research-based solutions for corneal transplants and brain implants respectively, were successful in a pool of ten competitors. Both teams participated in the 2018 TRaM Track program, developing their entrepreneurial capacity and learning how to maximise their prospects for commercial success.

CorGel, a team comprised of researchers from the University of Melbourne and the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) is making corneal transplants easier for surgeons and improving their rate of success via the development of a specialised gel that prevents donated corneas from rolling up during the procedure. The team is now focused on commercialising their research as part of TRaM Runway, with support from Melbourne School of Engineering, Centre for Eye Research Australia and the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences.

CorGel

The process towards commercialisation and securing industry backing had already taken a considerable amount of time for the research team. However, Dr Shereen Tan from CorGel described how TRaM helped the team tap into the needs of the market and pivot to deliver a solution to a problem that their core users – surgeons – were experiencing. The result has been securing an industry partner, Eversight, to help with proof of concept work.

“Going through TRaM Track gave us a customer-focused mindset that we previously didn’t have. We were able to continue commercialising our research at a point when we thought our options were drying up and create something remarkable,” Dr Tan said.

On top of being really excited to receive one of the GCI HealthTech Innovation Challenge prizes, Dr Tan said that the results validated the hard work that has gone into CorGel’s research and “provided confirmation that successful research commercialisation is the result of focusing on how your research outcomes can help to solve end user problems.”

TRaM teams learn that early engagement with the market is an essential part of the process for driving research impact

The second TRaM team to win, NeuroBit, is developing an innovative software-based method to translate thought into movement. By analysing brain signals to understand the intent of movement, they are able to control assistive robotics for those living with spinal injury. Supported by the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, NeuroBit has already successfully engaged with major brain implant manufacturers in both Germany and the US and is working to commence a clinical trial within the next 12 to 15 months.

NeuroBit

Dr Farhad Goodarzy from the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences said that his team wasn’t expecting to walk away with a prize given the high quality of the other presenters.

“Participating in TRaM Track helped us to get to the point that we were prepared to tell our story effectively through the delivery of a successful business pitch. Presenting to potential investors is a completely new skill we’ve had to learn – being succinct and selling yourself and your company in five minutes as part of the Challenge was a valuable experience that will no doubt assist us in the future.

“What TRaM most helped us with was establishing our business case. Before we started the program, we had little understanding of who our customers were and what they actually wanted. By interviewing patients with spinal injuries and their carers, we figured out how we could engineer our software to provide a solution that they most needed.”

The funding has allowed NeuroBit to purchase brain implants that will allow them to start human trials in the near future.

Dr Simon Wilkins, TRaM Director, said the success of the teams was testament to their understanding of their respective customers and the challenges they faced.

“TRaM teams learn that early engagement with the market is an essential part of the process for driving research impact. The pitches delivered by both teams showed they had successfully worked through the critical juncture of analysing and understanding market demands and behaviours as part of the research commercialisation journey and applying that knowledge to their products under development and their go-to-market strategies.

“We congratulate CorGel and NeuroBit on their success at the HealthTech Innovation Challenge, and their continued efforts to progress their projects during a really exciting period within health innovation.”

To follow the teams’ progress, or to find out more about hopping on the TRaM in 2019, follow them on Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram